Revisited: The Way We Get By: Jim Gaffigan is Getting Back to His Gardening Roots

The comedian and actor opens up about his green-fingered life during coronavirus.

Over the festive break, Talkhouse Film is revisiting some of its most read (or listened to) pieces of the year, including this one. Happy holidays! – N.D.

I lived in New York City after 9/11, and as a New Yorker I naturally compare this moment to events like that or Hurricane Sandy. After 9/11, the psychological consequences were that you were nervous about public transportation, but most of us were still taking the subway a couple of days later. There was something very sobering about the initial months of the pandemic, though, because it was so debilitating to our freedoms, particularly for people like my wife, who had a brain tumor and so is high risk. Because I have five children and because we knew so little about what was going on, there was nothing cute about being in lockdown. We have friends who work at Mount Sinai, where my wife had her cancer surgery, so we knew what healthcare workers were experiencing.

I was on tour in Latin America, in Colombia, when things really started to get bad. When Argentina closed, I decided I had to go back. On the flight home, I thought about my friends who would be quarantined without any family, relatives, friends or even cats; although we’re more social at night, comedians are pretty solitary figures. Thinking of all those lonely people prompted my wife and I to live stream Dinner with the Gaffigans – not that any of my friends necessarily watched it! By chronicling the experience of COVID-19 – in my New York City apartment with my wife and children – and trying to provide some humor on a weekly basis, I had this fascinating outlet which allowed me to see how things were changing, and be able to digest it all. It also quickly turned into a fundraising effort for frontline workers.

The big thing I learned was that helping people – whether it be monetarily, symbolically, or just being a champion on their behalf – is something you have to do for your own sanity. I also found out that doing something, even something small that might seem relatively important in the grand scheme of things, gives you some power in a situation where you otherwise feel powerless.

At the start of lockdown, I had an expectation it was going to last two or three weeks. I had no idea how long it would really be. It’s not as if we weren’t told that it was going to be like this, but I just thought, “We’ll figure this out. By August, we’ll be fine and be able to go to a baseball game.” I think we all existed in a certain level of denial. But then reality set in.

The thing we still don’t understand is the emotional consequences of what we’re dealing with. You see people coming undone on social media, and I think the pandemic has made everyone’s fuse that much shorter. I’m sure I’m losing it in a certain way, too.

This time is hard for everyone, but I think it’s maybe particularly hard for city folk, who’ve had the spontaneity of their lives torn away. People in New York City are used to running into a friend on the subway or on a street corner and grabbing a coffee, and it’s not the same to have a FaceTime call with someone. When the convenience and the immediacy of New York City – whether it’s like going to a restaurant at 11 o’clock at night or picking up groceries at 1:00 a.m – is taken away, it’s a little more cruel.

After three months of lockdown, we rented a house and moved upstate, where I’ve started a garden. I am thrilled to be doing press for my movie Most Wanted and my new Amazon special, Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist, but I’m basically like Alexander Hamilton after his son died – I really just want to get back out there and convert that piece of mud into a vibrant source of vegetation.

When I was in the eighth grade in Indiana, I planted corn and some other stuff and had so much fun doing it that I wanted to be a farmer for a little while. I’m now reconnecting to that feeling. At the house we’re renting, there’s six raised beds and an area that was very overgrown, which I’ve been slowly clearing. I started my planting late, but my corn is a decent height and my tomatoes and zucchinis are ready. I admit I don’t know what I’m doing – I’m no Martha Stewart – so I’ve been watching YouTube videos. I am teaching my kids about gardening, too – we remove the weeds so the plant is not competing for water or space and can grow properly. Of course, my kids don’t care, but I care and it’s very satisfying for me. I think that’s what’s so exciting about gardening; just like standup or creating a moment in an acting scene, you’re creating new something that wasn’t there before.

Jim Gaffigan is a four-time Grammy nominated comedian, actor, writer, producer, two-time New York Times best-selling author, two-time Emmy-winning top touring performer, and multi-platinum-selling recording artist. His latest film, Most Wanted, in which he stars as Glen Picker, is now in theaters and on demand. Gaffigan’s many film credits include Three Kings, Super Troopers, Super Troopers 2, and Chappaquiddick, and his recent movies include Troop Zero, Them That Follow, Light From Light, Being Frank, Drunk Parents and American Dreamer. He released his seventh stand-up special, Quality Time, in 2019 through Amazon, which also the home for his latest special, Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist. In addition to two seasons of the critically acclaimed semi-autobiographical The Jim Gaffigan Show, which he wrote and produced with his wife Jeannie, and his widely popular stand-up comedy specials, Gaffigan has guest starred on many television comedies and dramas, ranging from Portlandia and Bob’s Burgers to the HBO cult hits Flight of the Concords to dramatic roles in Law & Order. Gaffigan and his wife currently live in Manhattan with their five loud and expensive children. (Picture by Robyn Von Swank.)